Car accidents can cause many kinds of injuries, including sprains, concussions, broken bones or whiplash. However, if you've noticed following your car accident that your jaw feels sore, stiff, or audibly pops when you eat or talk, you may have also suffered an injury to your temporomandibular joint. This guide will explain what TMJ disorder is, what may have caused it in your car accident, and what you can do to improve the condition.
TMJ Disorder Symptoms
The temporomandibular joint is the hinge in your jaw that allows it to open and close when you eat and talk. TMJ disorder, sometimes called TMJ for short, has many symptoms of varying severity. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, you may have developed TMJ disorder:
- Clicking - You may hear a clicking or popping sound near your ear when you eat or talk.
- Uneven Motion - Your jaw joint doesn't move smoothly when you open and close your mouth, but instead unevenly rachets into position.
- Lack Of Flexibility - You may have lost some range of motion of your jaw joint. Eating large foods like tall sandwiches or hard foods like gumballs may be nearly impossible, as you can't open your mouth wide enough to wrap around the foods.
- Pain - Eating, chewing or even talking may cause pain and discomfort in or around the joint. Foods that require a lot of chewing or things like gum may worsen the pain.
TMJ is often caused when injury or sudden trauma affects your neck or jaw. The concussive motion of a car accident often induces whiplash, which puts severe strain on the muscles, bones and nerves in your spine and neck. The muscles in the neck are directly connected to your jaw, and this can pull on the joint, damaging it and pulling it out of alignment.
If you struck your face during the accident, whether on an airbag or another surface, this impact may have caused trauma directly to your jaw.
If you're experiencing these symptoms, a dentist can help to analyze the damage and reduce your discomfort. Your dentist may use x-rays or physical examinations to find damage done to the joint.
Once your dentist has confirmed that you have TMJ disorder, they may suggest or prescribe anti-inflammatory painkillers to reduce inflammation and swelling around the joint. Your dentist will probably suggest dental splint treatment for your disorder.
TMJ dental splints resemble invisible braces, and are designed to gently pull your lower jaw forward, reducing stress on the joint and surrounding muscles. This kind of splint is made specifically for you, based on a mold of your teeth and jaw that your dentist will take. Wearing this splint regularly should reduce stress on the joint and the discomfort of TMJ. If another driver was found responsible for the accident, their insurance may cover your TMJ treatment.
TMJ-related jaw pain may occur minutes or days after your car accident, so don't ignore pain that starts later on. See a dentist immediately to have your jaw pain diagnosed and to start the healing process.